Many (if not most) of us who write fundraising communications materials obsess about WHAT we’re going to say. We want our content to be compelling, informative, persuasive and gripping – so we agonize over what we’re going to say and how best to say it.

But in my opinion, most of us miss a very important ingredient in our Great Writing Recipe. We don’t think enough about the WHO in our writing.

Here’s a little test for you. Pick up your organization’s annual report or some other form of general communications. Skim over the content and tally up how much of that content is written in corporate-speak and how much of that content is written in the first person by someone real.

It’s a simple fact that we absorb and connect with information much more fully if that information is presented to us by a real, live face and voice.

Let me use legacy giving as an example:

You could have a legacy booklet or brochure that contains lots of information about gifts in wills. Your goal is to persuade supporters to make bequests to your organization. Yet, all of this content isn’t actually FROM anyone. It’s from the cancer charity or the hospital foundation or the anti-poverty alliance. Yet, these organizations don’t have faces or voices. We don’t know their personalities – and it’s hard to FEEL something toward them.

I’m a BIG believer in having real live human messengers do the communications work on behalf of the organization. (After all, McDonalds has Ronald McDonald and Kentucky Fried Chicken has Colonel Saunders!). I don’t care how great your charity’s brand is, it’s easier for me to relate to a real person or character than it is for me to relate personally with a brand.



This is always where I want to start with legacy communication. I interview a living donor who has already left a bequest to my client’s charity. In this case, the storyteller can share how she first came to care about the cause, how she first met the organization, how she started supporting that organization, and how she ultimately chose to leave a legacy to perpetuate that support. When done properly, donor testimonials are worth their weight in gold!


This one is like the donor testimonial above, but with a twist. In this case the bequest donor has passed on, and the storyteller is a surviving loved one – probably the widowed spouse or an adult child. In this case, the widowed husband tells the story of his beloved wife and her gift. He talks of his love for her and he shares the story of her commitment to the cause and her support of the charity. He concludes by saying that even though he misses her terribly, he does take solace in knowing that her gift is still advancing the mission of the organization that received the gift.


I’m a huge believer in telling the story of the founding of the organization that’s marketing bequests to its supporters. There’s great power in the story of how the organization was founded. There’s passion in telling the story of the founders’ grit and determination to start with something small and really advance a mission. There’s great persuasiveness when the listener or reader of the founding story sees the consistency of purpose from the founding of the organization to the present day.


My fellow Good Workers and I usually refer to this type of story as ‘The Vision Piece’. We like to have the CEO or Board Chair talk about where the organization has been, where it is today, and. most importantly, where it’s going in the future. But to me, there’s much more to this piece than vision. This piece really sings when the organization leader talks about why he cares so deeply about the cause and is so deeply committed to the organization’s mission. When the CEO of the cancer charity tells me that he lost his son to the disease, I know he’s deeply engaged with his work!

These are just four examples of how your legacy materials can talk in the first person singular. And – there are lots more! Donors, volunteers, members and supporters can be powerful voices. So can people who have benefited from your program or service. I’ll bet that if you sat at your laptop with a cup of coffee, you could come up with a dozen great messenger ideas before your coffee got cold!

So, find your best messengers and let THEM tell your story. I promise you that you’ll achieve better fundraising results when you do!

This blog post originally appeared on The Hilborn.